The Alchemy of Change
13th international digital print exhibition
Organized by Art & Science Collaborations, Inc. (ASCI)
at the New York Hall of Science
September 3, 2011 - February 5, 2012
Humans, animals, insects, trees, plants, oceans, and air -- indeed, all that we see, taste, smell, touch, and breathe, contain molecular processes of physical transformation; a dynamic dance of change. This magic of transition, called alchemy by our earliest scientists, became the science of chemistry. It describes both the physical structure and characteristic actions of matter. It allows for all organic and inorganic change to take place -- brain synapses to fire, oxygen to be formed from carbon dioxide and water during photosynthesis; the transformation of gases in our solar system; along with the ability of proteins to turn our genes on/off. If you extend your imagination beyond the epithelial surface of your body, or into the ether that carries cosmic dust, or even into your kitchen, chemistry can inspire wonder. Like a fabulous menu of concocted primordial soups, when exposed to changes in temperature, pressure, or speed, chemistry can create a stick of dynamite or a magnificent souffle!
For this exhibition, we celebrate the International Year of Chemistry by inviting artists and scientists to show us their vision of this deeply fundamental, magical enabler of life called chemistry.
Trish Adams (Australia), Davide Angheleddu (Italy), Andrew Baird (Australia), Elizabeth Bajbor (Poland), Jadranka Carluccio-Grbic (Italy), Richard Elaver (USA), Brian Evans (USA), Roger Ferragallo (USA), Helen Glazer (USA), Peter Gudynas (UK), David Hylton (USA), Robbin Juris (USA), Katherine Kollins (USA), Andrew Krasnow (USA), Hariclia Michailidou (USA), Art Murphy (USA), Julie Newdoll (USA), Jadwiga Podowska (Norway), Cheryl Safren (USA), Mark Stock (USA), Susana Sulic (France), Alexandra Unger (UK), and Allan Wray (USA).
The sheer variety of the works produced by all the artists highlights exactly what ASCI wanted – to open the public’s eyes to the nature of chemistry. Not just the chemistry found in laboratories so secluded from our day-to-day lives, but something active all around us and more than that – something we can find inspirational. The works which make up the final exhibition illustrate how many different strands branch out from this initial concept, and it is this diversity which made judging this competition all the more difficult but all the more interesting. The works which caught my eye were those which took on a playful or personal approach. As the director of GV Art which focuses on the inter-disciplinary connection between Art and Science and where this holistic approach is so inherent, I found the art works which toy with the theme in an original and less explicit manner most appealing. I congratulate all of the artists and am truly honoured to have had the chance to co-juror this competition.
owner/curator GV Art, London gallery
Sometimes intentionally, sometimes (I suspect) not, the images in ASCI’s Digital2011: The Alchemy of Change” international digital print exhibition echo the centuries-long struggle of chemistry to find effective modes of visualization. Alchemical imagery often sought to locate chemical transformation in a cosmic perspective, making the unfolding of all creation a chemical process couched as allegory. Alchemy’s schematic symbolism of the elements became John Dalton’s atoms. Today, fuzzy micrographs rub shoulders with computer-rendered ball-and-stick molecules and abstract depictions of electron orbitals. They are all here, reminding us how important visual codes have always been in chemistry’s efforts to convey what can’t be seen.
In other words, there is plenty of evidence in this show of cross-fertilization between scientific and artistic visualization. Scientists adopt a quasi-modernist aesthetic to depict their molecules: hard edges, shiny surfaces, bright colours, a deceptive, if not in fact misleading, realism. This seems now to be imported back into digital art, in which the molecules are used as ‘ready-mades’ from the scientific literature. We seem to demand that these molecules look pretty, whether in art or science – why? Other images in the exhibition engage with the more schematic, explicitly idealized formalisms that strive to say something about electrons and bonds; some could almost be technical diagrams. For others, the chromatic displays afforded by polarized-light micrographs of crystals and liquid crystals supply the palettes and textures. Many would not look out of place in the ‘graphical abstracts’ now popular with chemistry journals. I’m unsure if that’s good or bad.
Arguably, the most effective images here are those that seem to transcend the knowable, the boundaried, the certain, and familiar. They hark back to the alchemists’ need for allegory, for a hidden code that tries to intimate what we don’t yet fully understand. Pearlescent, overlapping surfaces hint at complex processes and structures beyond our ability to discern or describe. For me, these come closest to showing chemistry as it is -- not a finished or a fully comprehended science, but an enterprise that still depends heavily on metaphor and analogy, and whose fundamental rules continue to evade precise description.
writer and noted author of popular science books
The ONLINE EXHIBITION:
On November 3, 2012, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy that hit the northeast USA, ASCI's website server lost 2.5 years of archived projects. We will work to re-create them during 2013, as well as move forward. Our previous archived online exhibitions are at:
Founded in 1988, Art & Science Collaborations, Inc. (ASCI) is an international organization based in New York City. Its mission is to raise public awareness about artists and scientists using science and technology to explore new forms of creative expression, and to increase communication and collaboration between these fields. Explore our extensive archives of past Exhibitions, Featured Members, ASCI Member News, and Members' Homepage Listing, and discover the amazing resource information in our monthly ASCI eBulletin.
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